Ownership of property is a human concept which permits the owner to destroy ANYTHING he owns within a framework of moral behavior.
That is precisely what ownership means. The various actions any man performs with any property he owns are NOT subject to moral judgment rendered by others.
Our reluctance in accepting this ties in to a collective concept of property. It is assumed, for example, that a man may properly eat a meal because one meal is of no great value and besides the food would probably spoil if it was not eaten within a relatively short time. But a house! How can a man have a right to destroy a house, even one that he owns ? There are many people who don't have a house. Why shouldn't the man with the house be forced to give the house to someone else if he is tired of owning it and doesn't want to sell it?
Note the unspoken assumption that "someone else" might conceivably have an interest in this house which is clearly owned by one man and not the "someone else." There is a variation on this theme which says that the owner of the house may not destroy it because "society" has certain rights in respect to this house.
This idea with all its variations is merely a carryover from more primitive times and assumes that the tribe, or society, or the government, is really the owner of the house. The concept of eminent domain arises from this ancient belief. The king has an eminence over all property which makes it possible for him to seize any property for any purpose at any time. He may be required to pay for it a sum he deems "fair" under the circumstances.
But his payment, especially since the sums paid are merely collected from other property owners, is in no way a modification of his power.
This belief, which is little more than a superstition, but as hard to kill as a myth, is one of the primary reasons for our failure to understand the nature of property and men's rightful relationship to it and to each other. If we will bear these simple rules in mind, we will be well on our way to an understanding of property and ownership:
1. Property must have a boundary, must be desired by at least one person before it will be owned, can be tangible or intangible and can even have boundaries in time.
2. Ownership is a total condition. Man's nature as a consumer makes this totality a necessity. Man must be able to consume property and must be able to do this without injuring other men. Ownership is the line of distinction drawn between men and property which makes this possible, i.e., you can destroy what you own, but you cannot injure, even in the slightest particular, anything owned by another.
3. Size has no bearing on what may be owned. Neither does the "need" of another, the number of things owned, the location of the things owned, or the existence of many people in a group who may or may not own various things.
It follows, therefore, that what we refer to as human rights invariably arise from an understanding of property and property boundaries. All rights, as such, are human rights to property. There are no exceptions. All criminal activity, whether it is performed in violation of law or with full legal sanction, is nothing more nor less than a violation of some person's rights to his property.
If individuals will study the nature of property and ownership and decide never again to trespass the boundaries of a property owner knowingly, the bulk of all our problems will begin to melt away. Such a decision would include the refusal to work with groups, either within the law or outside the law, which groups are aimed at trespassing the property boundaries of others.
From first degree murder to petty theft, each and every crime violates property. Our failure to teach this to our children results in our juvenile crime. Our failure to understand this ourselves results in our predatory government, monstrous social pressure, taxation, intervention and a degrading of the independence and freedom we should all have as human beings.
Who Owns Man?
Is there anything that may not be classed as property and hence may not be rightfully owned?
Anything can be owned at all, and is subject to the claim of ownership, provided it does not belong to another. In other words, property ownership is a moral concept. The boundaries of property may not be trespassed morally at any time for any purpose.
Rival or conflicting claims to a given property are always in error. A claim which is made when the claimant knowingly is aware of a prior claim is immoral.
Thus it is proper to say that prior ownership precludes secondary ownership. If this thought is carried to its logical limits, it will be seen to abolish slavery on principle. It is improper for one man to have a property composed of another man. The other man belongs to himself.
His life is his most precious property. All of his physical attributes are his own. All of his moral and spiritual attributes are as distinctly owned -- his rights, his understanding, his talents, his freedom, and so on. All these are his own property, and as the writers who framed the Declaration of Independence were to make note, "all men are endowed ... with certain unalienable rights..." These personal rights which go to make up the man and which are the man may not be alienated. That is, they may not, morally, ever belong to any other.
A child is born as a result of his parents' actions. He survives at first only because of their care for him. Yet, he is not their property. He is his own property. Man's dignity and his ultimate attainment of true greatness rest upon this recognition.
Similarly, the child's parents are not the child's property. It is not possible for one man to own another man within a moral framework of reference. Correct human relationships can only be built upon a recognition of the worth of each individual and the exclusive rights he has as such. These rights are his property.
Each individual is his own bargaining agent. And all through his life he will bargain in an effort to improve his own property position and his own position as it relates to the position of his fellows.
Let us again recall that the ownership of property contains the recognition of the right to destroy or consume. Would it be morally proper for a father to destroy his son? Or may the son destroy his father and retain a moral stature as he does so?
Clearly, this thought cannot be accepted. Yet, when a man owns property, it is implicit in the understanding of ownership that he is on moral grounds if and when he destroys or uses up that which he owns.
Earlier students of this subject at one time held that a father had a moral right to destroy his children. Children were viewed as a property belonging to the sire. This was implicit in Roman law, for instance, where the pater familias could destroy his own dependent kin or his slaves with impunity.
A similar view was often alluded to in subsequent ages and is even echoed briefly in John Locke. But we have advanced beyond these ideas respecting the ownership and the control of one human being by another. Today, the slavery relationship is nearly universally abhorred. Even though slavery may still be practiced to some degree and in some locations, it has lost its one-time public sanction.
The same enjoinder should be made respecting marriage. Only a very few years ago it was believed that the wife was the property of her husband. The marriage ceremony in many places still retains traces of this property and property-ownership concept. Payment of a sum to the family by the bridegroom is still a custom. A dowry, by means of which to pay the man who assumes the responsibility of caring for the woman, is a variation of this same theme.
Only in recent years and in the more capitalistic and thus more advanced countries, have we begun to move away from the idea that women are a chattel belonging inadvertently to some male.
But we have a long way to go in our understanding of the virtue and the reality of the ownership of private property. An integral part of this understanding is the fact that man owns himself and may never, with propriety, own another human being.
The pertinent facts to have in mind as we approach collective ownership are: (1) property ownership entails the right of destruction or disposal in a total fashion; (2) all property must have a clearly defined boundary.
If right of disposal does not finally reside in the hands of the owner, then, in point of fact, the owner is not really the owner, but there is someone else, somewhere, who is the real owner.
Also, if a boundary does not exist to delineate what the INDIVIDUAL owns, so that what another person owns or what remains unowned can be clearly shown, then property ownership, as such, does not exist in fact. And this is the inevitable problem one runs into when facing collective ownership of property.
It is legally possible, of course, for a group to "own" a property. But in this case, the group becomes an "entity" in the creation of a legal fiction.
Take a city park, as an example. It will be claimed that the "city" owns the park. But what is the city?
It is merely a location, a site, where a number of people live who have, or whose predecessors have, incorporated their boundaries to create this legal entity. The taxpayers have paid for the park in their continuing taxes. In theory, the taxpayers own the park through their representative, the legal entity, called "the city."
But ownership, as we have shown, entails the right of disposal. Also, a clearly defined boundary must exist.
Can a single taxpayer, who has paid his share of the park, divest himself of what he has purchased? No, he may not. Reason? There is no boundary to delineate "his share." The park may have a geographical boundary. But there must also be a clear line to indicate what part of the park is owned by each of the "owners" who have paid for the park through their city. No such line exists. It would probably be impossible to draw such a line regardless of the size of the park or the number of taxpayers, since each taxpayer pays a different fee which fee varies from year to year.
The fact is that the taxpayers do not own the park for they cannot individually manage it, use it, or dispose of it. Actually, the city, existing as a legal fiction, has the trappings of ownership. But the city has no real existence.
The head of a city is the mayor or the city manager. But the mayor or the city manager, or any other titled official, has no personal ownership of the park. None of these men may do as he pleases with the park. They don't own it, either. Neither does the city council. Nor the board of park commissioners.
The board of park commissioners can decide who uses the park. The council can decide how much it thinks the park is worth. The taxpayers can be compelled to pay for the park. But those who pay for the park may not use it against the wishes of the commissioners. Actually, the commissioners can make the park available to some group or some person who has NOT paid for it, and forbid the admittance of many who have paid for it.
To change the usage of the park requires some additional legal steps.
But if ownership is a fact, then no legal steps are necessary. The owner may dispose of his property as he sees fit.
This is the dilemma which collective ownership INVARIABLY creates. It happens when a city owns a street or a park or a utility or any other property. It happens when two boys are given a single bicycle for their use. It happens any time the BOUNDARY is not clearly defined, not only insofar as the property is concerned, but insofar as ownership of the property is concerned.
This is the place where thousands upon thousands of disputes arise. Yet if the boundary were ascertained and determined in advance, there would be little justification for any dispute. To morally determine who may do what, first make certain the boundaries to property are definite and that they are related to individual owners. When you have done this, a moral disposal of the property, regardless of what kind of property, is always possible.
Capitalism and Ownership
The real bone of contention between capitalism and communism relates to the difference between private ownership of property and collective ownership of property. Properly speaking, capitalism is an economic system in which individuals own the property, whether it be productive property or personal property. Communism is an economic theory which supposes that conditions for men will improve if private ownership, especially of productive property, is eliminated in favor of collective ownership of the means of production.
But, as the evidence abounds, it should not be necessary to belabor this point. Communist theory doesn't work out in fact. When productive property is collectively owned, poverty ensues. It takes private ownership and private initiative, as our own capitalist system has established with abundance, to provide a vigorous, high-voltage economic system.
In addition, collective ownership creates endless and unnecessary conflict over who is to get how much of what. Personal boundary lines are erased in favor of the collective. But the collective is nothing more than a legal fiction which rules out the choices, the desires and the satisfactions which people, as individuals, always seek.
There is a trap here which communists and socialists love to spring.
They say, in effect, "Aha, you capitalists are the same as we are. Your giant corporations and your giant partnerships are instances of collective ownership, too. Here are some more instances of collective ownership, which you claim is improper. You simply think it is right when a corporation collectively owns the tools of production and you think it is wrong when a city or a government owns the same tools. There is no real difference between these two."
But this supposed trap turns out to be a boomerang to socialist or communist theory. For the line of demarcation in a corporation or a partnership is ALWAYS carefully and precisely drawn. The individual owner of stock does not own the corporation, he owns the precise number of shares of stock he has purchased. And he has the full right of disposal of that which he owns.
He can keep the shares, sell them, give them away or tear them up. Of course he doesn't run the corporation. When he buys ten shares of some particular firm he isn't buying the management, he is buying the ten shares.
True, in democratic manner he may assist in choosing the management or in setting policy. But he owns only what he has bought and he may dispose of that in any way he wishes when he decides to do so.
The same is true of partnerships. The amount of ownership is clearly indicated, usually by a percentage of the ownership.
Stock ownership and partnerships are indications and evidences of private ownership; government ownership of any property is an indication and evidence of collective ownership. The right of disposal does not accrue to the proper parties in collective ownership. That is, those who pay NEVER have the right of disposal.
Mankind is in a transitional period, moving gradually and painfully out of dark ages wherein reliance upon collectivity is slowly fading as we move into a brighter era of individualism and private ownership.
Communism is a reactionary movement which would turn back the clock by re-emphasizing collective ownership.
When there has been sufficient in the way of economic understanding provided to enough people, the people themselves will ask for and receive the concept of private ownership.
True progress does not come rapidly. But if we can resist the blandishments of the politicians, who are forever trying to divest us of our rights in property so they can manage things for us against our best interest, we will move in the right direction.